Sam Jones BBQ | 502 W Lenoir Street, Raleigh, NC | 984-206-2555 

A confession: before moving to Raleigh, I rarely ate pork.

It’s not because I grew up in a Jewish household (my family didn’t keep kosher) in Connecticut but more so because my parents, and seemingly everyone else in the Northeast, has no clue how to cook a hog. Every chop I’d try was bone dry and tasteless—the kind you over-chew because you dread swallowing. So, with the exception of bacon, that’s what I thought pork was—a flavorless gray hunk of blah.

Thankfully, the swine at Sam Jones BBQ is anything but blah. It’s both sweet and savory, and the naturally smoky flavors need minimal accoutrements. That’s because this place isn’t taking any shortcuts—on a busy day, they barbecue three whole hogs, head and all, on a massive grill.

The hotly anticipated barbecue joint opened in February of this year at 502 W. Lenoir Street, tucked away just west of the city center. It’s the second Sam Jones BBQ outpost; the first opened in Winterville (near Greenville), in 2015. The Raleigh location formerly housed Dusty’s Garage and pays homage to the auto shop with a photo of Dusty’s family on the wall and by retaining the original flooring, scratches and all, giving the space a unique feel.

Sam Jones has its own celebrated history. Sam learned the ropes from his grandfather, Pete Jones, who perfected the family’s classic eastern Carolina barbecue recipe at the Skylight Inn, which opened in Ayden, North Carolina, in 1947. Skylight rose to national prominence for its classic whole-hog approach.

“We don’t cut any corners,” says Adam Bauer, kitchen manager at the Raleigh location. “Nothing here is frozen. Everything comes in fresh. We don’t have a freezer on site. We really take pride in passing on that southern hospitality that would you find in your home here to the guests.”

Seasoning is minimal—just salt, pepper, hot sauce, and vinegar—and the magic all happens on the grill.

At about 1 p.m. three whole hogs sliced down the center are placed on the grill at 250 degrees until about 10 p.m. Then, they’ll cut the heat, but keep the hogs in overnight, so they continue to cook. In the morning, they fire up the heat again and crisp the skin. The hogs then get chopped up and the skin is removed but mixed back in to add a hint of that charred and smoky texture.

“It all comes together and equals this perfect bite in your mouth,” Bauer says.

When I stopped by on a recent Thursday evening, the restaurant was mostly empty—a rarity, I hear, as there’s often a line out the door at lunch and dinner. But soon after we took our seats outside on the picnic benches, families and couples started filing in.

I ordered the three-meat combo with ribs, smoked turkey, and the classic pork with a side of sweet slaw and collard greens. It comes with a dense hunk of cornbread that feels almost like a brick. That’s because it’s not meant to be gnawed alone—its ultimate utility is found in soaking up the extra sauce and meat.

The sides were on point, with a slaw so finely chopped it’s hard to tell what’s in it (not that it matters; it’s delicious).

The ribs are another popular Sam’s staple—juicy and flavorful yet with an appropriate amount of char. I quickly stripped them to the bone. The turkey wasn’t particularly memorable, but the pork more than delivered with its perfect balance of salty savory goodness.

If you can save room for dessert, I’d recommend the banana pudding, a sweet and spongy delight. But if you’d rather drink to help you digest, the Jay the Butcher cocktail is an old-fashioned with pig-fat infused bourbon to give it a unique, smoky flavor.

You can find hot new takes on southern-style cooking all over the downtown Raleigh food scene, but sometimes you just want to go back to the basics. Sam Jones delivers barbecue in the most classic sense. It definitely hits the spot.

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